I guess there are two ways one can approach “Gothic Horror”. Either one takes its conventions at face value as in, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or one treats it tongue in cheek; Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey of the BBC Dracula from earlier this year. It’s no surprise that in La nonne sanglante Gounod very much takes things at face value and, equally unsurprisingly chucks in a fair amount of Catholic religiosity complete with the unlikeliest characters wandering off to Heaven at the end.
Like everything else the 2020 Rubies, Opera Canada‘s awards show, is going virtual this year. It’s going out as a video, produced by Taylor Long of the COC, which will premier at 8pm on November 23rd. Joyce El-Khoury hosts and Ben Heppner narrates the honouree videos, and then Barbara Hannigan, Michael Schade and Yannick Nezet-Seguin contribute ‘acceptance’ speeches. Plus there’s a tribute to this year’s posthumous honouree, tenor Edward Johnson. There are also performances by Russell Braun, Rihab Chaieb, Midori Marsh and Matt Cairns recorded in the studio with pianist and singer co-located. The show will be shown via OC’s Youtube channel.
There’s much more about the honourees and their careers on the Opera Canada website:
Thomas Adès’ latest opera, The Exterminating Angel, is probably his most ambitious and best to date. It received its US premiere at the Met in 2017 and was broadcast as part of the Met in HD series, subsequently being released on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s based on the surrealist 1962 Buñuel film. It’s a very strange plot. A group of more or less upper class guests attend a dinner after an opera performance. All the servants except the butler have (inexplicably) left the house. The guests seem unable to leave the room they are in nor can anyone from outside enter it. This goes on for days(??) during which the guests accuse each other of various perversions including incest and paedophilia and turn violent while still expressing delicate aristocratic sensibilities like an inability to stir one’s coffee with a teaspoon. There’s a suicide pact, a bear and several sheep involved before the “spell” to escape the room is discovered. What happens afterwards is unclear. (The opera omits the closing scenes of the film). It’s very weird and quite unsettling; Huis Clos meets Lord of the Flies?
Two more spooky shorts from Tapestry Opera and Red Truck productions. If you had any lingering doubts about Keith Klassen’s sanity these should take care of them! That said, the technical quality of these is amazing. (Tapestry Youtube channel).
A COVID flavoured Halloween special from Opera Revue. (Opera Revue’s Youtube channel)
A recording and video presentation by the Kingston Symphony of Dean Burry’s Nijmegen Bridge1944. It’s a homage to the Canadians who died liberating the Netherlands and it’s well worth hearing. There are also more Harmon in Space episodes. (Kingston Symphony Youtube channel)
Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoraide isn’t performed all that often but it has appeared a number of times at the Pesaro Rossini Festival. In 2018 it got a new production there from the creative team of Opera Atelier with a rather starrier cast than is usual in their Toronto productions followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release. It’s actually not too hard to see why the piece isn’t done more often despite its many good qualities. It requires four tenors; at least two of which need to be absolutely top notch Rossinians and a soprano of equal quality. None of the roles are easy. It’s also a bit mixed dramatically. The libretto is a rather convoluted crusader story set in Africa. Agorante has captured Zoraide and wants to make her no.2 wife. No.1 wife Zomira is unimpressed. Ricciardo disguises himself to try and rescue Zoraide. Zoraide’s father shows up. Agorante is about to have essentially everyone executed when the crusaders, led by Ernesto, rush in and everybody makes up. There are some really effective scenes and others that just seem to drag on. Musically it’s pretty good though. It’s never less than well crafted and at times; the first half of act 2 especially, there’s some great music including a crackerjack tenor duet, a fantastic display aria for soprano and some really good ensembles.
Mirror, Mirror is a fifteen minute film from Essential Opera based on a score and libretto by Anna Pidgorna. There’s a lot to unpack for a fifteen minute work! First off, let’s be clear that this is a film and not a video of a performance or production that might have had a live audience. It’s shot on location in Nova Scotia; on the beach, in the forest etc. And it’s done very well with excellent editing and high quality in the audio and video recording.
Back in the summer Opera Canada asked a number of us to right a piece on our local opera scene and what was happening there that went beyond rewriting companies’ season announcements and updates. So in July I interviewed the leadership of seven local companies ranging from the COC to Opera 5 (thanks to all the lovely people who gave me their time). That article appeared in print in the most recent Opera Canada magazine. It’s now available on the website. Bear in mind that it was written back in August and that some things have happened since then. Nonetheless I was pleased to be able to offer up what I think was asked for, which was something reasonably analytical and strategic.
Tonight Essential Opera have a short livestream of a new creation. It’s a fifteen minute piece on the theme of Snow White called Mirror, Mirror. Words and music are by Anna Pidgorna. It’s being screened on Youtube and Facebook at 7pm EST.
Tapestry Opera is offering a full-time, paid, multi-year professional opportunity to female-identifying and non-binary music directors and conductors in partnership with Pacific Opera Victoria and leading orchestral partner the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, collaborating with over 10 other Canadian opera companies and orchestras for national placements. All the details on the programme and the application process are here.
The Royal Conservatory of Music have announced a metric shedload of cancellations, alterations and postponements relative to their 2020/21 season. All the details are here. In any event, if you were planning on seeing anything live or via webstream from the RCM I’d double check!
Suzie Leblanc has a new website. You can check it out here.
The third of Saturday night’s webstreams was Toronto City Opera’s double bill of Menotti’s The Telephone and Poulenc’s La voix humaine. The choice of rep makes sense in that it meant that very few people had to be assembled in the Ernest Balmer Studio where the recordings took place though it also looks a bit odd for a company that in normal times is about participation.
The Menotti is essentially a rather weak joke stretched out for half an hour. A man is trying to propose to a girl but every time he gets close to popping the question she either receives or makes a phone call. I thought it was a bit feeble the first time I saw it and it doesn’t wear well. It doesn’t help that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to marry this utterly boring girl except, perhaps, her utterly banal suitor. I guess the basic problem is that anything trying to be “realistic” from the US in the 50s and 60s is almost bound to be dull as just about any interesting aspect of human life was off limits due to various kinds of censorship. Anyway, I think TCO got as much out of the piece as there is to be got. The contemporary updating had its witty moments and both Nicole Dubinsky and Johnathan Kirby; backed up by Ivan Jovanovic gave strong performances in the singing and acting departments.
There was another not entirely conventional show last night though, on account of being singular, I had to wait until this morning to watch it. It was Tapestry Opera’s Improvisation as Life featuring pianist Robi Botos improvising on the Bösendorfer Imperial while Art Battle champion Moses Salihou painted. It’s a very interesting concept and another example of a company creating a show that translates well to on-line delivery. I’m not well versed in piano improvisation but I found it interesting and enjoyable and was somewhat surprised (I don’t know why really) that Botos made use of extended piano techniques as well as the keyboard. The art work was pretty cool too.